Group of Critically Endangered California Condors Trash Woman’s Deck

The group included 15 to 20 of the massive birds, which amounts to nearly 10 percent of the remaining wild population

California condor
A California condor photographed in Tehachapi, California where this past week a group of the endangered raptors descended on a woman's back porch. B W via Flickr under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

“Over the weekend ~15 California condors descended on my mom’s house and absolutely trashed her deck. They still haven’t left,” tweeted Seana Quintero of San Francisco on Monday afternoon.

Quintero’s mother, Cinda Mickols, had gone away for the weekend and when she returned on Monday the condors, which can have a nearly 10-foot wingspan, had already firmly established their position on her back porch in the town of Tehachapi, reports Matthias Gafni for the San Francisco Chronicle.

In 1987, there were thought to be just 27 California condors left on Earth. Now, there are an estimated 200 birds in the wild after captive breeding programs brought the species back from the brink. As such, a congregation of what may have been as many as 20 individuals in one spot is a rare sight to behold. But for Mickols, this spectacle of nature was bittersweet given what the birds were doing to her home.

The condors shredded a hot tub cover, knocked over plants, damaged screen doors and slathered Mickols’ newly redone deck in their excrement, Quintero tells Johnny Diaz of the New York Times.

“It looks like there was a party,” Michael Fry, a scientist at the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, tells Teo Armus of the Washington Post. Fry, who works on California condor conservation, tells the Post that the species is “very gregarious.” He adds that condors
“will feed communally, they tussle with each other. They might even play tug of war over a carcass. … But I don’t know what they were all doing on her deck.”

In response to Quintero’s tweets chronicling her mother’s trevails with critically endangered wildlife, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service replied via the social media platform with some context and tips for Mickols’ predicament:

Her home is located in historical condor habitat where natural food sources occur...unfortunately they sometimes perceive houses and decks as suitable perch locations.

If this happens again, hazing to preclude them from causing damage and habituation is encouraged. This includes using methods that will not harm them such as water hoses, yelling, clapping, shouting or using other preventative measures such as scarecrow sprinklers.

We also discourage people from feeding them or trying to touch them. We hope this information helps if you experience this situation again.

As of Wednesday morning, the condors had departed, per the Chronicle, but by the time the afternoon rolled around, Mickols’ uninvited guests had again started circling overhead and lurking in trees nearby.

Kari Paul of the Guardian writes that California condors once ranged all the way from British Columbia to Mexico, but habitat loss and poisoning from lead ammunition and the insecticide DDT came close to wiping them out in the late 1980s. After the population was built back up to its current—but still fragile—state through intensive captive breeding programs, California’s catastrophic 2020 fire season killed nine condors when flames consumed a condor sanctuary in Big Sur and an occupied nest. According to the Guardian, in March, the Yurok tribe announced plans to reintroduce condors to their ancestral lands near California’s border with Oregon and the Pacific Northwest more broadly.

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